1982 and 2007.
is another way
and physical activity
by Katie Pratt
At the College of Agriculture’s Spindletop, Maine Chance, and Coldstream farms in northern Fayette County, livestock graze on crisp, green grass, crops reach toward the sun, and scientists carry out cutting edge research, all with the Lexington skyline in the backdrop—a skyline that creeps closer each year.
URBAN ENCROACHMENT is not a new issue for any of UK’s Fayette County farms. The north farms and the Horticulture Research Farm on the south side of town lie along two of the busiest intersections in the city. When congested roadways cut through the farms, it became nearly impossible to navigate large farm equipment from one side of the property to the other, so parcels of land at both Coldstream and the Horticulture Research farms have been sold in past years.
This isn’t only an issue with the College’s farms in Fayette County. Rural/urban interface issues span Kentucky as small towns and cities continue to expand. According to the American Farmland Trust, 618,000 acres of Kentucky agricultural land were urbanized between 1982 and 2007. If other types of rural land, such as forestland, are included, that number jumps to 991,400 acres during the same time frame.
a farmland legacy
LAND PRESERVATION is an issue of great concern for College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith, which is why he allowed the 8.5 mile Legacy Trail, connecting downtown Lexington to the Kentucky Horse Park, to use 2.5 miles of the north farms’ western boundary. By doing so he hoped to showcase the farms’ natural beauty and the critical research and education that’s conducted there and, in the process, gain community partners for their preservation.
“Maybe those allies won’t know a thing about the significance of our world-changing no-till research or our studies of equine and cattle nutrition and health being done on the north farms,” Smith said. “Maybe they are only there for the open, beautiful Bluegrass landscape. But if they help us conserve this land, they are most welcome.”
Both land use and preservation were strong considerations when Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and College of Agriculture officials were deciding where to put the trail. Running it along Newtown Pike was not feasible because the traffic congestion and interchanges of interstates 64 and 75 made it too dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Located along the farms’ western boundary, the trail minimally impacts the College’s research and ongoing programs. Fencing along the route allows the public to enjoy the scenery and projects without compromising any ongoing research efforts.
a public education
THE TRAIL, which opened in September, also serves as a bridge between the College and the community.
“I grew up on a farm and understand the importance of accessibility to farmland, and a lot of people in Lexington don’t have that,” said Marnie Holoubek, a community volunteer and Legacy Trail Steering Committee member. “This trail provides a farm lane for everyone.”
Many UK researchers and extension specialists hope to use the “farm lane” as a way of providing informal education to the public.
“A land-grant university’s mission is to educate the citizens of the state,” said Janet Kurzynske, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. “We do that formally by teaching students but also informally through the Cooperative Extension Service. The Legacy Trail is another way of educating the public about nature, the College, and physical activity in an informal setting.”
For Kurzynske, the trail is a way of using the built environment to tackle the increasingly serious problems of overweight and obesity.
“There are not a lot of places in Lexington where you can go out and walk without road competition,” she said.
The 12-feet-wide, mostly off-street trail gives families an opportunity to cycle or walk in a safe area. And it’s also a chance for trail goers to see and appreciate their natural environment from a different, slower perspective.
The trail provides some of the best views of the farms’ rolling hillsides and important streams. Amanda Gumbert, UK extension specialist for water quality, worked with the Legacy Trail Narrative Group to develop signage that explains the natural sites and environmental concerns along the route. The signs also include information about the Cane Run Creek watershed, development and land use, and Karst topography.
Trail users also have the opportunity to see ongoing research projects, such as the Department of Entomology’s butterfly zinnia research.
“The trail gives the public an overall view of the size and breadth of the research farm and provides a broad view of the critical research that goes on at the farm,” said Bob Brashear, assistant dean of facilities management.
The trail showcases environmental practices that could be installed on any farm and emphasizes their importance to the public. Steve Higgins, director of environmental compliance for the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, has overseen improvements on the farms that include fencing to keep horses from streams, 5,000 newly-planted trees, and the elimination of invasive bush honeysuckle from creek beds.
The city government has installed bridges over creek crossings to keep people and pets out of the creek and its tributaries. Native prairie grasses are in place throughout parts of the trail to help eliminate runoff. And about 5,000 feet of pervious concrete, which reduces runoff by allowing rainwater to seep through to the groundwater, is installed at Coldstream Park to publicly display its environmental benefits, said Keith Lovan, a city engineer who oversaw construction of the trail.
beyond the legacy
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE Associate Professor Brian Lee and Steve Austin, ’87, vice president of community leadership and engagement for the Blue Grass Community Foundation, have spent their careers in land use management.
Landscape Architecture students spent their final semester
The pair team-teach a capstone course that connects fifth-year landscape architecture students with communities throughout the state to explore land use possibilities and draft comprehensive land use plans.
The most recent class worked on a project called Beyond the Legacy, which hypothetically connects the Legacy Trail with existing and potential trail systems in 14 surrounding counties. The regional trail system they devised incorporates activities from walking and cycling to canoeing and horseback riding.
The trail system could potentially make the area more attractive to individuals looking for recreational and adventure tourism opportunities. The trails could also attract businesses and newcomers to the region, because trails are considered an amenity and are usually associated with a higher quality of life for its residents.
“Trails give people an appreciation of the natural environment,” said Austin, a graduate of the College’s landscape architecture program. “They increase personal and community health, and they can be used as an economic development tool.”
Land use is critical for long-term community and economic development. As the urban skyline continues to inch closer to the farms, College officials will continue to work with city officials and community partners to maintain the delicate balance between urban and rural areas. And livestock will continue to graze, crops grow, and education and research flourish on the farms for years to come. ◆